A career that included five vehicle crashes in six years ended in September when Collier County Cpl. Jesse Todd was stripped of his law enforcement credentials, according to documents released this week by the Sheriff's Office.
Of the five crashes, two of them were fatal, killing Felix Beltran, 32, in 2007 and Andrew Rakes, 21, in 2011.
Officials recommended a withdrawal of Todd's appointment in February following an internal investigation into the wreck that killed Rakes. Todd was found negligent for not telling dispatch his location as he responded to a call and for failing to travel with "extreme care and caution" while operating a motor vehicle.
The investigation closed in mid-September, with Sheriff Kevin Rambosk signing off on the recommendation.
Rakes' sister, Amber Copeland, said her family was not notified of the action against Todd.
"I've been very mad but I've calmed down on it, but I just hope that he's learned his lesson," she said of the crash. "I just want him to know that I feel bad that he lost his job but at the same time, what he did to my brother was wrong, and not taking responsibility or saying I'm sorry — that kind of hurts."
Following an appeal of the decision by Todd, the sheriff agreed to assign him as a jail technician for a probationary period of one year. In September, Todd accepted the offer, which stipulates he is not permitted to drive Sheriff's Office vehicles.
The investigation stemmed from a March 31, 2011 crash in which Todd was driving about 101 mph in a 45 mph zone while responding to burglary suspect pursuit, according to internal affairs documents. As he went through the intersection of 22nd Place Southwest at Santa Barbara Boulevard with lights and siren activated, his vehicle struck a car driven by Rakes.
Rakes was flown to Lee Memorial Hospital but died at the hospital. Following the crash, Florida Highway Patrol investigators cited Todd for failure to use due regard in operating an emergency vehicle, but a Collier County judge found him not guilty of the violation this past March.
Blood samples showed Rakes had consumed marijuana two hours before the crash, a finding from the medical examiner that Rakes' family disputes. Copeland, who has suspicions that the sample was "contaminated," said she did not know her brother to use marijuana and found no drugs or paraphernalia at his apartment after his death.
Although internal investigators said Todd was negligent, in court filings for a pending auto negligence lawsuit filed by Rakes' parents, lawyers for the Sheriff's Office wrote that Rakes "was more than 50 percent at fault for his or her own harm" because of his impairment.
Todd's first fatal crash was in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2007 as he responded to a robbery call that later turned out to be a false report. Thirty seconds after a dispatcher reclassified the incident as a routine call, Todd's vehicle struck a car driven by Felix Beltran at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Broward Street.
Investigators estimated Todd was going anywhere from 70 mph to 80 mph in a 55 mph zone without his lights or siren activated. Beltran, who was later found to have had a blood-alcohol concentration of .32 — four times the legal limit — and trace amounts of cocaine in his system, died at the scene.
Todd received 12 months' probation and an order to receive defensive driving instruction because he did not alert dispatch that he was responding to the call.
Beltran's family members also said they were not notified of Todd's demotion.
"It's a small victory, considering the great loss his family and children have suffered," said his mother, Hilda Goin, who expressed sympathy for the Rakes family. "Mr. Todd may have lost his position as a deputy, an insignificant loss compared to the two lives tragically lost due to his careless and irresponsible driving."
Reached Wednesday at her Golden Gate Estates home, Beltran's then-fiance and mother of his children said her faith has carried her through the loss.
"I have faith in God, and I knew one day (Todd) would eventually face what he did to Felix," Marina Garza said. "Of course my children's lives will never be the same because they're missing their father."
Garza, who settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office two years ago, said Todd's punishment in the crash that killed Beltran was nowhere near as severe as his family had wanted.
"I think that the punishment should have been set accordingly for what he did, and it wasn't," she said.
Through the Sheriff's Office, Todd declined to comment on his recent reassignment. In a written appeal, his lawyer Donald Day faulted Rakes for the 2011 crash and said the action against Todd "sets a dangerous precedent" since his client was not found to be legally responsible for the wreck.
Documents show Todd was placed on administrative leave with pay on Feb. 15, when internal investigators recommended his appointment be withdrawn. He started as a jail technician Sept. 25.
According to a spokeswoman, Todd earns $20.12 an hour in the civilian position, where his duties include clerical tasks like writing bonds, answering telephones and entering booking information into jail computers. He had previously earned $23.72 an hour as a corporal.